Gemma's Message

December 12, 2011
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It was the first time Gemma had ever moved, and at the time being, she was less than elated about it. Packing up all she had ever known, from every book she read to every doll she had ever collected, it was a painful process to the young child. Her whole life squeezed into the same three cardboard boxes; taped, packed up, and shoved to the back of a moving truck that promised to be careful but broke six lamps anyways.

Her father had remarried after Gemma’s mother had passed away from an illness she had been fighting for years. It was a painful battle to witness, so it was almost understandable that Gemma and her father felt relieved when Mrs. Pond had finally passed. From there on, they lived a quiet life inside their home built for four, and tried picking up the pieces where their mother-and-wife had dropped. But soon, the quiet life grew too much of a burden for the young Mr. Pond, and his bed grew too cold and his arms too empty. He began to look for a new partner, and unknown to young Gemma, he met a woman whom he would soon call his wife.

The wedding was in the middle of June and Gemma was only six. She begrudgingly crumbled the disembodied petals of lilies down the aisles of an oversized church and pretended to smile to the cameras that flickered when she danced with her new mother. It was all too fast, and Gemma was less than elated. Especially when her father had announced, three days after the wedding, that he and Gemma were to move into her house, which was miles away from theirs.

The new home itself was beautiful, as were the surroundings. Mr. Pond’s new wife had inherited the home from her grandfather, as most of the homeowners in the neighborhood had done. The area was surrounded by lush green hills and little to no trees and every building and sign was painted in white or beige, and subtle shades of yellow and blue. There was a bird’s nest in every tree, a rose in every garden. It was a strange and private paradise, hidden away within every book Gemma had ever read, and every fairytale Gemma was ever told.

“It will be hard not to fall in love with the home,” Gemma’s father had warned her. And reluctantly, Gemma couldn’t help but agree. The moment her eyes fell upon the home she admitted the house was beautiful—with its vanilla white paint, large oak doors, with a yard that extended into the hills and the small duck pond half a mile down the road. Despite the property’s charm, however, it wasn’t the house she would fall in love with but rather the little boy who lived next door.

Henry Williams. Light brown hair and dark green eyes that seemed to reflect the hilly landscape he was born into. Henry Williams, with his crooked smile and the scar over his eyebrow from a biking accident near his eighth birthday. Henry Williams, the boy whom I fell hopelessly in love with the day I met him, the boy whom forever stained my heart.

Seeing as they were of close age and were conveniently placed right next door to one another, it was more than natural that Henry Williams became Gemma’s first friend since she had moved to the neighborhood. Henry was a bit hesitant and reluctant to be Gemma’s friend in the beginning, for Gemma was part of a whole new gender whom he was not accustom to interacting with. His mother had also died at a young age, and he had only brothers and uncles and boy-cousins and a father—no women. But in time and with plenty of Gemma’s prodding, he had warmed up to the idea of being friends with a girl.

“See?” Gemma had said one day, grabbing Henry’s hands. They were much larger than hers, and warm with anticipation. “Girls aren’t any different than boys most of the time. The only difference is that I can do this—!” and with the increased elevation of Gemma’s tiptoes, she planted a gentle kiss on the nose of the unsuspecting Henry. He jumped back, and swung his arm up to wipe the kiss off of the bridge of his nose, when he froze.

“Why did you do that?” Henry asked, looking at Gemma, who was grinning with overflowed joy and humor.

“Because I can!” Gemma answered, giggling. Soon, Gemma would realize that it was the beginning of the most significant and beautiful relationship she would ever have, but also, the beginning of the end.

Gemma would wait on his porch every afternoon, at exactly three o’clock, for Henry to arrive home from school. Over the years Gemma had attended Catholic school, where the nuns would beat her wrists and ankles with switches, forming blotchy bruises that Henry would kiss better for her. All the while Henry was fortunate to attend public school, spending his lunchtime in detention, sleeping and reading comic books. But everyday at precisely three o’clock, Henry would become Gemma’s again, and hers alone. And that was enough for her.

Most days, Henry and Gemma would outside of their homes, eating the fruit of the earth and racing down the sloped hills. But it was a strangely rainy day, when Henry and Gemma played hide-n-seek within the empty home of the Williams’ family, when Henry’s father was absent and his brothers were elsewhere.

Henry was excellent at finding hiding places in his own home, of course, as he had known every nook and cranny of the place. But Gemma had a stubborn fighting spirit, and would go out of her way in order to beat Henry. So during one game, she had climbed her way into the small door that lead up to the stairs of the attic. Rain was dripping in from the cracks of the house, and there were small puddles of water everywhere. Still, Gemma tiptoed around the puddles and began reorganizing the items that were long forgotten up there, covered in layers of dust and debris.

After shifting through layers of old fur coats that probably belonged to Mrs. Williams, and after rummaging through the boxes of trophies the Williams boys had earned from over the years, Gemma had finally discovered the perfect hiding spot. Right behind an old painting that was resting against the wall. She hurried over, and examined the painting. It was at least six feet tall, with or without the elaborate plastic frame. It was an oil painting of a woman, sitting in a red chair, her hair curled and spilling into ringlets that rested on her shoulder. The woman’s eyes were dark shades of brown, as if she understood how cruel the world really was, yet, there were deep laugh lines carved in her face. She was beautiful, but strange. And time had aged the painting and sun and ruined the paint—it belonged in the attic, with the rest of the ruined and forgotten items.

Nevertheless, Gemma squeezed her way into the cavern the painting had made with the wall and floor. Attempting to crouch down to conceal herself from the eyes of Henry, she had misjudged the flow of her body, and knocked the painting down to the floor. With a loud thud, the painting’s frame shattered and the canvas covered in a mixture of mud, dust and water.

“Crud!” Gemma murmured, hurrying to hide the damage. She was terrified of Mr. Williams and had witnessed him beating Henry for breaking things before. So fearfully, Gemma started to collect the shattered remains of the frame, and squeeze them into an ugly puce-colored vase. But when she started to pick up the pieces that held the canvas in place, her eyes had fallen upon a neatly cursive note, sketched into the back of the strange painting.

Dear Gemma,

Don’t do it.

Immediately, she thought it was a joke, and looked around. No Henry hiding in the corner, and no Mr. Williams standing tall and angry, his arms folded across his chest. “Don’t do what?” Gemma wondered out loud, and looked at the writing once more. Cursive, black ink, beautiful. Who could have written such a note?

But when Gemma brushed off the dirt in search to see if the author had signed his or her name, something black and furry crawled onto her hand. Gemma raised her hand to her face, and let out a scream when she realized it was a spider. A black widow. Full of venom and willing to kill anyone who threatens her home, which was presumably the attic, and presumably inside the old painting that Gemma had destroyed.

Gemma had swatted off the creature and fled, making her way downstairs and to safety. She had nightmares about the spider’s deathly poison for another few days, but soon, all memory of the spider and the painting were long forgotten, like everything else that was in the attic of the Williams home.
It’s been twenty years since Gemma was that innocent teenager, mesmerized by the poisonous effects of love. Henry had long since forgotten the spark they shared, and their once exciting and wonderful love had turned monotonous and grey. Henry worked eight hours a day at his office downtown, and Gemma stayed home, which they inherited from Henry’s late father. Henry’s childhood home, the one Gemma and Henry spent their days playing in. Sadly, Gemma was alone most of the time, and only saw Henry for an hour during which he ate the dinner she routinely made him, after which, he receded into his office, door shut. Gemma saw the light creep out from under his office door and longed to be inside the office with him, even if only to sit behind him and watch his meticulous calligraphy roll across the papers he signed.
On this particular day, Henry came home with a poorly stacked mountain of paper that needed to be filed away in the attic. He complained of a back ache, so Gemma lovingly volunteered to take the papers up for him. As she climbed the creaky stairs, perfectly balancing the stack of papers in one hand and herself in the other, she approached a mahogany bookcase, its shelves bowed by the heavy stacks of books upon them. She set the papers down on the floor, and began sliding and stacking the dusty books around in an attempt to make enough space for the papers, but they simply wouldn’t fit. She turned around and saw a chest of drawers. The drawers were just big enough that she thought the papers would surely fit into the large bottom drawer. She pulled it open, the bottom screaming as it skidded across the attic floor, and dumped the papers in. Standing up, she closed the drawer with the heel of her foot and as she looked up, her eyes rested upon a painting. She remembered seeing this painting as a child, and she couldn’t help but remember that there was something strange about it that she just couldn’t put her finger on. Gemma decided not to worry about it, and proceeded back down the creaky stairs, turning the light off on her way out.

Gemma returned to her bedroom. She called it hers because Henry rarely visited their room these days. She had endured a long day, and decided that it would be best for het to tuck in early tonight. Gemma walked across the room to their vanity table, strewn with her yellowed pearls and deteriorating images of her marital happiness. She sat down on the plainly upholstered stool and opened her top drawer to grab her hairbrush. There, in the drawer, was something unfamiliar to Gemma, something that definitely did not belong in her drawer. It was a beautiful gold necklace, crusted with sparkling green emeralds, and it was not hers.

Gemma stood up and stared at herself in the mirror for a long time. Henry finally came in to go to bed and was surprised to see her standing there. He walked towards her and asked if she was okay. No response. Gemma walked out of the bedroom and back downstairs. Gemma recognized that necklace from somewhere. She want into his office and there on the deck was a picture—a picture of Henry with his brown eyed, beautiful, young assistant at their last office party. She had not been invited. Gemma set her gaze closer and noticed something. The woman in the photograph was wearing a gold necklace. Gemma looked down at her hand, and opened it, palm up.

Gemma was infuriated. She paced back and forth across the office floor trying to think of what to do. He had been awful to her lately, and this was the last straw. All Gemma eve did was love him, and he was cheating on her? She swiftly pace back up the stairs and threw open the door of the bedroom.

“What is this?” Gemma screeched, waving the necklace in the air like a flag.

“I-I can explain,” Henry stammered. “It’s not what you think.”
Gemma grimaced at the necklace in her hand and looked back up at Henry. “Explain,” she said.
“Gemma, that’s for your birthday.” Henry quickly replied.
“Right, of course, my birthday. Then why was this exact same necklace on your assistant’s pretty, little neck in that photo of you two at the party you ‘forgot’ to invite me to?”
“Gem-” he paused, for he was taken off guard by the accusation. “Gem, when I saw my assistant wearing that necklace, I thought of how beautiful it would look on you, so I bought it from her to give to you. That’s all.”
Gemma paused, contemplating as the anger slowly slipped from her face. “You… bought it for me?”
“Yes, Gemma,” Henry sighed. “Listen, I see how worked up you’ve been for these past few days over my work. I thought you need to relax a little so I bought you that necklace and a spa certificate for this weekend. I love you, and I hate seeing you like this.”
“I’m so sorry. I just thought… the necklace… I can’t go anyways, I have to stay here with you and make sure you’re okay.”
“I’m fine. You go.” Henry grabbed her hand and held it in his for the first time in years.
“Okay,” Gemma replied, elated. “Thank you, Henry. I love you.”
“You too, Gem.”

It had been three days since the incident, and it was time for Gemma to leave for her weekend away. Gemma had been working around the house all morning, for she felt she needed to make up for the fact that she would be absent all weekend. Henry walked her to the door and gave her a quick kiss on the forehead. Just like old times.
“Relax,” he said.

Gemma walked down the steps of their front porch, gazing ahead at the sun flickering through the trees. She paced the glittering sidewalk to her car and pulled open the driver’s seat door. She looked once back at Henry, who was standing in the door waving at her to go. She started up the engine and slowly pressed on the accelerator until the house was a speck in the rearview mirror. Half way there, however, she realized she had left her cell phone, so she turned the car around. It was only an extra thirty minutes off her spa time, it didn’t necessarily matter.

Gemma was only going to run inside really quick to retrieve her phone, but, upon arrival, she realized there was an extra car in the drive way: Henry’s assistant’s. Knives cut into the pit of her stomach as her suspicions slowly stretched the line into reality. Walking up to the door, she could no longer feel anything but pain and a dying hope that Henry still loved her, that he had told her the truth, that she had not been living in a home desecrated by her husband’s infidelity.

She steadily opened the door, careful not to make it creak and within moments found herself at the top of the steps, outside her room, listening to the soundtrack her worst nightmare. Years of suppressed anger rose from her blood as it flushed through her limbs, bringing them to action. Gemma sprinted to the kitchen, threw open the cupboard door, and grabbed it. It felt cold in her hands, and for a moment, she felt alive, liberated. She glared at the long, glistening barrel, and saw her reflection in it. She carried it by her side, up the creaking steps, and lingered, heart pounding, outside of his door, and just as she was about to thrust the door open, she paused.

Henry Williams, she thought to herself once more, hearing his voice chuckling behind the door. The boy who forever stained my heart. She squeezed the magazine of the gun and bit down on her lips. The boy who kissed my bruises. The boy who waited for me afterschool. The boy who played hide and seek with me...

A bolt of realization hit her faster than she could draw breath.

Gemma tucked the rifle away and backed away from the bedroom door. She thought hard for a few minutes. “Oh my god,” she mustered. Gemma turned around and approached the attic door. The painting. It had all come back to her. The picture of the brown eyed girl, the note, the black widow. Was it all for this? Gemma opened the door and stared into the dark abyss. She flicked the light switch on and ascended the staircase. Reaching the top, she rested her eyes on the dresser, and their sat the painting waiting for her to understand.

Time had not been kind to the painting, even with the old blanket that rested on top of it. For when Gemma’s swift arm tore the ratty blanket on, she expected a gruesome face that would have changed from the time she had seen it as a little girl. But under the blanket was a thin layer of dust, encrusting and encasing a beautiful woman, with eyes just as dark as Gemma remembered them.

But now with wisdom swelling under Gemma’s eyelids, she examined the portrait of the strange woman. Sitting in the red chair, brown hair curled into old fashioned ringlets, and eyes of earth. She still seemed unfamiliar, at least, until Gemma’s eyes contacted the golden necklace that graced the woman’s neck. Gemma gasped once more, stumbling into an old lamp that tumbled to the floor.

“How, how could that be?” Gemma murmured, her hand clasped over mouth. She feared the noise of her movements awakened the monsters below her, and feared the confrontation yet to come. But she shrugged off all uneasy feelings about her husband and his lover, and focused on the task at hand.

With a graceful swoop, Gemma had swung the six foot tall paint against the wall, pivoting it to reveal the back. Remnants of the frame that young Gemma had obliterated years ago still clung to the skeleton of the canvas. Mud and dust mixed into a thick layer that covered the back of the canvas, but were clipping off from the sudden movements.

“The note!” Gemma remembered, her wrists dripping wet from sudden tears. Gemma hadn’t remembered when she started crying, but she did not question it. She was too occupied with the sudden memory of the note, the strange note that haunted her as a child. A note—she recalled as she scratched the mud and dust off with her manicured nails, maneuvering the gun to her opposite hand—that said my name and told me to…

Blank. Nothing.

Her eyes frantically searched the canvas, her nails scratching at every inch of dirt and debris that had stuck to the portrait. “Where is it?” she cried, her nails poking into the thinned paper, tearing long lines and chipping her acrylic. “Where did it go?!” And with that, Gemma dropped the painting onto the floor, and fell to her knees. The gun rolled onto the floor, stopping on a nail that had come loose from age. Gemma stared down at the floor, extending her lanky arms to pull her knees up and hold it to her chest, only to bury her drenched face. After letting each and every emotion she was feeling leak out of her eyes and nose, consequently staining her shirt, she inhaled a deep breath, and with the last bit of strength she could muster, she looked up at the painting once more.

The note had not reappeared like she had hoped, but instead, a spider had crawled onto the canvas. It seemed to have stared at Gemma, and then drop down to the floor. Gemma, frightened by the quick movement, hopped to her toes and flinching, stepped back. Quietly, she watched the small spider crawl onto the cold barrel of the gun that she had abandoned on the floor.

Almost on cue, Gemma heard the voices of her husband and his lover below. Hate welled up in the pit of her stomach almost immediately, and on instinct, she bit down hard on her lower lips, nearly drawing blood. She was still angry and betrayed, and that was enough reason to continue what she was to do before. But as Gemma made a reach for the gun, she froze. She looked at the spider that rested upon it. Really looked at it.

A black widow.

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